Detroit Local activists have called for an independent team to be formed to respond to the mental health crisis following the police shooting of Porter Borks just over a month ago.
About 30 people attended Saturday’s rally at the Adams Potzel Recreation Center despite the snow, sleet and 35-degree temperatures.
It was organized by the Detroit Justice Center, a nonprofit law firm, and community organization groups such as We the People MI Action Fund, Michigan Liberation and Accountability for Dearborn, a group advocating transparency and eventual divestment from Dearborn Police.
Ash Daniels, the lead organizer for Michigan’s Campaign for Care Not Criminalization, said the state lacks adequate mental health facilities to provide care to those in need, and black and brown communities are disproportionately affected by a lack of resources, she said.
“We need facilities that people can go to and numbers outside the police when people are in crisis,” Daniels said. “When the police show up in their uniform, a person in crisis usually tends to become more aggressive. And, as we’ve seen in the last month, the results don’t bode well.”
Detroit police officers shot 22-year-old Birx 38 times in three seconds in October while carrying a knife and refusing to obey the officer’s orders to drop it. The Burks family initially called the police because he was suffering from a psychological crisis.
The Birx family sued the city of Detroit and the five unidentified police officers who shot him earlier this month, with a $50 million manslaughter lawsuit. The officers were placed on administrative leave after the shooting, according to Detroit police policy.
A police investigation into Burks’ past has revealed a history of feuds with the police. Most recently, his family called the police in June to inform them that Birx was looking to fight anyone. Before that, police were called after Burke stabbed two family members in March and August of 2020.
Detroit Police Chief James White had previously said the system had “failed Mr Birx” and his family, who had tried to help him.
Maranda Sailor, 23, said she wanted to show her support at the rally because she said she was called by police in the midst of a mental health crisis when she was 20.
“It was really scary when I saw police officers coming in instead of a doctor,” said Sailor. “A crazy amount of things I could have avoided if someone had just come over and talked to me and calmed me down.”
Detroit police are responding to more than three times as many mental health-related 911 calls than in 2020, with an average of 64 calls per day.
Daniels said that because 911 calls related to mental health are increasing in frequency, a portion of the police department’s budget should be allocated to an independent crisis unit.
“It only takes about 2% of the DPD budget to start and fund a non-police crisis unit,” Daniels said. “More people (need to) get involved in social work and in psychiatry, you know, are willing to answer these calls and answer the phone.”
Alexandria Hughes, a leader at Accountability for Dearborn, said first responders to mental health crisis situations should never carry a gun.
She cited the Crisis Assistance Street (CAHOOTS) program in Eugene, Oregon, and the Support Team Assisted Response (STAR) program in Denver, Colorado, as examples that Michigan cities could emulate.
“The gun does not indicate that the next response will be cautious. She said the gun indicated that the next response would be violence. “It is fundamental that the person responding to a mental health crisis asks the person what they need, and asks them about their independence.”
Detroit police began expanding their Mental Health Joint Response Partnership in March. The initiative aims to treat mentally ill people in Detroit rather than send them to prison and train officers to de-escalate situations with mentally ill people.
A crisis intervention officer appears in the body cam footage of the Birx shooting and says, “I’m not in any trouble, just drop the knife and we’ll give you some help.”
On Thursday, Detroit police shot and killed a mother of two who had a mental illness, killing her. The woman’s mother called the police after they assaulted her and her 7-year-old son and told them over the phone that her daughter had schizophrenia.
Police shot the woman as she struggled with an officer to access a pistol. The shooting is still under investigation, but police said the safety of children in the home at the time of the shooting was their primary concern.
Detroit City Council President Mary Sheffield said she’s open to exploring all options when it comes to finding non-lethal ways to deal with mentally ill residents.
“However, the goal must be to protect the lives of all involved, the goal must be the person in need, family members, neighbors and police officers,” Sheffield wrote in an email.